Prologue - The Return to Zero

The young girl stared down at the stone in her hands, and couldn't help but wonder what her parents would think of it. It was a very pretty thing, she thought, and even though it was red, a color she hated, there was a certain quality to it that made it seem almost mystical. Certainly, she had seen magical gemstones before. Her parents were, if not prominent, then at least capable magic users, so something of that sort would not have seemed so wondrous. This stone, however, was like nothing she could remember. It had to be foreign, she decided. There was something about its composition that simply seemed otherworldly, something subtle that was hard to detect without really staring at it for a while. The girl had heard stories of great gemstones from the main continent before, though she had never seen one. They were supposedly very rare, however, and the girl wondered if she had just stumbled across one.

Looking up at the horizon, she only now noticed that the sun was beginning to set, and stood up in alarm. She had spent far too much time out in the city, and her parents were surely worrying themselves to death even now. She giggled slightly in amusement as she thought about what their expressions would be like, even as she nervously worried that they might decide to punish her. Though, really, Sunhold was such a nice, grand city. Surely there was nothing to worry about here for them to punish her over?

With these thoughts in mind, she raced back towards the mansion she called home, almost tripping every once in a while on the hem of her dress. She didn't pay any attention to the surrounding buildings as she made her way through the city; she didn't have to. She had spent her entire life since she could walk exploring Sunhold, much to her parents' exasperation. She had always been much more interested in watching people in their daily lives and looking at all the fine buildings in the city than anything else, including her studies, and while she was a good student, she would probably never be superb, like her tutors claimed she could be if only she would get her head out of the clouds. The girl thought these comments were funny coming from a bunch of stuffy old men who probably never went outside to really experience life.

She slowed her pace as she entered the more populated area of the city. She didn't want to run into someone and make them mad, after all. She had done that several times before, and had since learned that it was an unwise thing to do in a city where a lot of those that spent their time in public places were haughty nobles or those that served them. As she made her way through the crowd, her always attentive elvish ears caught whispers and rumors. Such things were common-place in any big city, though the comments being made were more interesting, and more valid, than most. They were whispers of a group, feared by some and admired by others, that had had the audacity to challenge the status quo. The Beautiful, they were called. A rather arrogant name in a society where beauty was the standard, though many might argue that name stands for far more than simply physical appearance. A beauty of ideals, perhaps, or a beauty of personality, or perhaps it might even symbolize the creation of a new class. Whatever the case, The Beautiful were merely another symptom of a larger problem that had been present in the Altmeri culture for untold centuries.

None of this was important to the girl, however. Though she heard these rumors, hearing and comprehending are two entirely different things, and in her perfect world, there was no room for dissent and unrest.

When she burst through the finely carved wooden doors to her parents' home, she found one of the household servants waiting for her with a frown on her face. The elderly woman looked rather ill, and the young girl wondered momentarily if she was okay, before her doubt was swept aside. Her parents would never force someone to work if they weren't feeling well, she was sure.

"Your parents are waiting in your father's study, child. Be careful how you handle this one, though. Your mother is in a foul mood."

The young girl nodded her head absent-mindedly in thanks, suddenly wondering what her mother was angry about. She frowned, thinking that perhaps it would be best if she didn't mention the stone she was still clutching in her hands to them. After all, where she had seen something wondrous, her parents might simply see an odd-colored rock. With this thought in mind, she quickly made a detour to her room and placed the stone under her pillow, and only then walked to her father's study.

Though she was suddenly nervous as to what her mother was going to say, since she had quite a temper, she steeled herself and entered the room. After all, she was a big girl, and she wouldn't be pushed around simply because someone was in a bad mood, even if that person was a parent.

The next day, the entire city would be in an uproar as the rumor-mill spun wildly about what had occurred the night before. A mansion belonging to a very nice, upstanding, but most importantly, traditionalist family had been engulfed in flames that had definitely been magical in nature. What else could have melted even the solid stone that served as the building's support? Needless to say, if even that had been destroyed, then there was no chance of recovering the bodies of any of the occupants.

It was a shameless act of murder on a family that was suddenly loved and admired by everyone in the city, even if most of its occupants had never met or even heard of the deceased before the tragic event. The city guard swore they would find and arrest the culprits of this horrible crime, but nothing would ever come of this investigation. The guards would later claim that there was no evidence whatsoever at the crime scene that might link back to whoever had started the fire, but the citizens of Sunhold were rapidly coming to their own conclusions, for better or worse. For a few months, the murders would be the most gossiped about thing in the city, but new events would quickly eclipse it, and the importance of the continuing chaos in the outside world soon doomed the murders to the obscurity of time. Not all would forget, however. Not all.

Murder is born of love, and love attains the greatest intensity in murder. - Octave Mirbeau